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expert reaction to WHO figures on measles cases in Europe in 2017

The World Health Organization has announced that there were more than 21,000 measles cases in Europe in 2017.

 

Prof. Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health, Institute of Child Health, UCL, said:

“The shocking statistic that 35 people died from measles in Europe in 2017 is a stark reminder of the seriousness of this highly infectious disease.  To meet the goal of eliminating measles, high rates of vaccination need to be sustained.  MMR vaccine is highly effective and has a good safety record; two doses are needed for protection.  Although over 90% of young children in UK receive their MMR vaccine, many young adults and older adolescents remain at risk of the infection as they missed out on MMR vaccine when they were younger.  Measles can be particularly serious in adulthood, but fortunately it is never too late to be vaccinated.”

 

Prof. Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“News of this large increase in measles cases in Europe is concerning.  Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can lead to extremely serious complications for some of those affected.  There has been a safe and effective vaccine to protect against measles since 1968, which has revolutionised the health of our children and saved many lives.  The number of cases in the UK dropped from almost half a million per year before the vaccine was introduced to the low hundreds each year now.  Most of the benefits have been via the triple measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective in innumerable studies.

“However, to ensure that our communities benefit from continued protection against measles, both the UK and our European neighbours need to keep vaccination rates high.  Children should routinely receive two vaccines against measles as part of the MMR vaccine, at 1 year of age and again as a pre-school booster (soon after the 3rd birthday).  The World Health Organization recommends levels of 95% coverage at these time points to ensure measles outbreaks don’t occur.  England’s coverage currently stands at 92% of children receiving the first MMR vaccine by their second birthday, with 88% receiving the second vaccine by their fifth birthday.  We should be doing better.

“The UK is a world leader in vaccine research and we need to ensure that this excellence is reflected in the provision of vaccines to our children to prevent disease, with Government, NHS and local authorities working together to achieve this.  This not only protects the children themselves, but also people in our communities who are vulnerable because of health problems.

“Parents who are concerned should talk to their GP in the first instance.  If you or your child has missed out on the benefits of vaccination, it’s not too late.  Get vaccinated.  Don’t regret it by waiting to catch one of these diseases.”

 

* http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/362448/epi-data-jan2017-dec2017-eng.pdf?ua=1

 

Declared interests

Prof. Helen Bedford: “I have no conflicts of interest.”

Prof. Peter Openshaw: “Prof Peter Openshaw’s research is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC and the European Union. He has received honoraria or consultancy fees from GSK, Janssen, and Mucosis BV.”

 

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